Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gannett Blog: Tour de force crowdsourcing

The waves of agonizing layoffs at Gannett this week showed the power of crowdsourcing in the hands of a skilled journalist.

Jim Hopkins, the former USA Today staffer who is the proprietor of the terrific Gannett Blog, urged his readers to report on the details of the layoffs at their papers. Soon, he began posting a comprehensive, rolling update of the carnage that, at this writing, is in its sixth instantiation.

The task would have been impossible for Jim to complete on his own – and probably well beyond the capability of even a small army of reporters, especially given that the company was not eager to share this sort of information with the media.

Jim was assisted, of course, by dozens of professional newsfolk who watched valued colleagues ushered out the door. In some cases, the contributors were the valued colleagues themsleves.

But quality crowdsourcing doesn’t have to be only about journalists writing about themselves.

Imagine what a newspaper could do if it put out a call for information from nurses about hospital lab errors, schoolteachers about dangerous classrooms, homeowners about property-tax increases, Little League coaches about ill-tended playing fields, or employees being laid off by a big factory.

Although most of Jim’s former colleagues were glad to have his blog around today as a valuable virtual watercooler, many of the comments were not so generous in October, when he asked readers to make modest voluntary contributions to help him raise $24,000 a year to cover expenses after his own buyout check ran out.

“Could you get a part-time job, that would pay you $24,000/year (e.g., a PT freelance editing/copy-editing gig at $35/hr for 15 hours/week and 48 weeks a year)?” asked one anonymous commenter. “That would still give you time to work on the blog.”

“For months you have had all the answers for Gannett problems,” said a second anonymous commenter. “Now the gravy train has ended as the Gannett ‘good-bye checks’ have new digital ad plan does not cover expenses? Let’s beg for 5 bucks every few months? Where's the tin cup...maybe include a few pencils in it....”

I am glad Jim kept blogging despite the flak. I’ll bet some of the snarksters are glad today, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Alan. I've been a regular reader of yours and Jim's blogs for some time, and I happened to be among the unlucky hundreds that got the Gannett pink slip this week. You've provided a lot of insight about the financial problems newspaper corporations are facing, and that's been helpful to me over time. Thankfully, Gannett severance will tide me over a little bit and I have some money in the bank. However, nobody has adequately explained to me how the people at this community newspaper deserved this layoff after we turned over healthy profits to the company all year -- 20+% NIBT every month. I grant you that it's not the 30% NIBT of a year ago, and that we were on target to miss last year's revenue budget by 15% or more. But it pains me that we're making all this money in this community and yet will lay off close to 100 people this year who live here! Is the reason that community newspapers should expect to foot a corporate overhead that eats up well over its 20% profit margin? Is it that Gannett has no faith in the economy and it needs to stay ahead of the curve? Or does it represent, for Gannett, a complete change in focus that is turning it into a new digital company where its newspapers are not counted as part of the future business model? It feels like they're selling off pieces now. Based on my local experience, I have to believe that community newspapers may have a profitable future -- although leaner than before, but where else are local advertisers going to get their local message out?

4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot of good information on Gannettblog which does, indeed, illustrate the promise of crowdsourcing. There's also tons of garbage, which illustrates the downside and which you failed to mention.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were magic moments this week on that blog as people from the newspapers reported in their latest developments to Jim's blog. It was real live news and, in spite of the anonmyity of the posters, relatively accurate as shown by the publishers' memos that sometimes came later. I am trained not to trust anonymous sources for news, so I was surprised about the effectiveness of crowdsourcing. Twitter is providing similar examples, as the recent assault on the Taj in Mumbia showed. But once again, we sound a familiar theme of this blog, and that is newspapers were the subject of these news events, but not part of them. Editors and publishers take note, because it is proof of how far behind today's technology your operations are today.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Rob M said...

Maybe I'm just put off by the cute term "crowdsourcing," but how is this any different from a mob rule approach?

"Imagine what a newspaper could do if it put out a call for information from nurses about hospital lab errors, schoolteachers about dangerous classrooms, homeowners about property-tax increases, Little League coaches about ill-tended playing fields, or employees being laid off by a big factory."

Don't we (journalists) do that already? Aren't we doing that all the time by simply existing? And by that I mean searching for sources that can be confirmed. I think it's obvious that if you're not confirming your sources, you'd just attract trolls eager to abuse the anonymity granted.

Whatever results might come from that kind of "information" gathering would not be journalism or news.

2:49 PM  
Blogger rknil said...

Rob M:

Your post is dead-solid on.

Many of the people at Gannett Blog are abusing the anonymity to throw stones at specific people. This is gutless and not at all what journalism should be about.

If they want to slam people, fine. Post with a name. What they're doing now is mob rule and pack mentality.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those interested in Gannett should check out the Turner Report blog out of Joplin, Missouri. Turner took a closer look at Gannett CEO Craig Dubow's highly publicized decision to take a 17 percent pay cut. Turner showed that if Dubow were to lose his job today, SEC documents show he would receive $12 million in severance.

3:20 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

I'm also one of the many who got the ax this week from Gannett, I'm blogging the experience myself at

8:40 AM  

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